• 20 Minutes

    publishes a three-part survey on the influence of followers of the QAnon theory in France.

    A true conspiratorial sponge, this theory promotes the idea that the United States and the world are controlled by occult powers that only Donald Trump is able to counter.

  • In order to understand the threat that this movement represents in France,

    20 Minutes 

    interviewed Alex Kaplan, an American specialist in disinformation on social networks and online extremism for the NGO Media Matters for America.

    "In the United States, QAnon has infiltrated our political system," he denounces.

  • For the specialist, this movement "undemocratic by nature", which notably allowed the election of two representatives to Congress, risks continuing to play its influence long after the election of Joe Biden.

At the end of 2017, an anonymous user of the 4chan forum posted a message in the "/ pol /" (for "politically incorrect") tab of the site, an online haunt of the American hard-right, known for its positions racist and ultranationalist.

He calls himself "Q" and claims to be an executive in the federal administration.

He claims that President Donald Trump is preparing to bring down his enemies, embodied by the "deep state" and by a pedophile cabal (even satanist and cannibal) including Hillary Clinton, the elected Democrats, and Hollywood personalities would be part of it.

Q announcement

a wave of mass arrests organized by Trump that should allow the country and its citizens to carry out their revolution and regain their sovereignty.

Three years and thousands of cryptic Q messages later, the QAnon conspiracy theory spawned murder, violence and attempted kidnapping in the United States, where it is directly linked to the assault on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021. It disrupted the American presidential election, and took on the appearance of a digital religion, as its followers have made Donald Trump - who has only gargled about it - a messianic figure.

20 Minutes 

interviewed Alex Kaplan, an American specialist in social media disinformation and online extremism for the NGO 

Media Matters for America

, to understand how the QAnon movement could have become so important in the United States and take the measure of the threat it could represent in France on the eve of the presidential election.

How do you explain such a development of the QAnon movement?

When Q's first posts appeared in October 2017, this anonymous was not the first to claim ties to the top US administration on far-right forums, it was even rather common.

But he benefited from a form of complicity from the moderators of 4chan, and the popularity of another conspiracy theory, the “pizzagate” which also claimed to reveal the existence of a pedophile conspiracy.

These messages immediately resonated on YouTube, Twitter and Reddit, before migrating to another even more politically marked and even more extreme forum: 8chan [now 8kun]

How did these messages resonate with the general public?

Thanks to alternative far-right news sites (such as Infowars or YourNewsWire) which participated in the distribution of QAnon content from 2018. By the following summer, QAnon followers were showing up to meetings organized by former President Donald Trump.

In the process, the followers of this conspiracy theory had created real infrastructures dedicated to QAnon on social networks: Twitter hashtags, Facebook groups, YouTube channels ...

The creation of this conspiratorial nebula played a very important role in its dissemination to the general public, and partly explains the explosion of its activity during the year 2020.

Did the US presidential election play an accelerating role in the dissemination of QAnon?


QAnon was already of concern - FBI classified him as a potential terrorist threat in 2019 following numerous acts of violence committed on his behalf

- but the election was an opportunity for the movement to soak up accusations of electoral fraud, to take advantage of the polarization between Democrats and Republicans, and to attract personalities revolving around the presidential figure and reinforcing the allegations of fraud.

I am thinking in particular of the lawyer Sydney Powell [who went so far as to participate in QAnon broadcasts on the Internet], or even the former general and adviser to Donald Trump, Michael Flynn.

Both are very popular figures with followers of this conspiracy theory.

Donald Trump, too, took advantage of QAnon by maintaining the ambiguity, retweeting tweets containing conspiratorial hashtags, and saying he appreciated their support, which they took as validation.

You saw what it led to: the assault on Capitol Hill by pro-Trump activists, including many QAnon followers.

It caused the death of five people.

Wasn't the Covid-19 epidemic also a factor?

The anxiety produced by the coronavirus, the mistrust aroused by health authorities, the lockdowns and the proximity of QAnon followers to the anti-vaccination and covid-skeptic movements have probably pushed many people towards this conspiracy theory.

But it also had a negative impact on the government's management of the epidemic, since it led to many waves of protest.

Several studies have also shown that a significant increase in the consumption of QAnon content on the Internet took place during the pandemic.

QAnon does she represent a threat to American democracy?

This conspiracy theory is undemocratic in nature, so yes.

But what worries me particularly is that it has infiltrated our political culture, as it has in our society.

Two congressmen, Marjorie Taylor Greene in the state of Georgia, and Lauren Boebert, in Colorado, have shown clear support for the QAnon movement to get elected, although they are now trying to distance themselves from it.

Others, and this is not insignificant, have succeeded in being elected within administrations, and will therefore be able to use their influence even after the election of Joe Biden.

How many people join QAnon in the United States?

We do not have precise estimates to date, although Facebook reported that 3 million of these members would be affiliated with the conspiracy theory in August 2020. However, we observe that the movement can affect anyone.

Some did Harvard, others are former Democratic sympathizers.

QAnon has the ability to include any little news item or any conspiracy theory in its alternate reality.

This makes it very attractive, general public and accessible.

It also exhibits sectarian tendencies, is linked to Christianity, to the Bible, and even infiltrates religious congregations.

Its followers cut themselves off from their family, their friends, or try to convince them of the veracity of their belief.

It is very disturbing.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are starting to shut down QAnon accounts on their platforms.

Are they acting too late?


We now know that Facebook and Twitter were aware as early as 2018 that QAnon was worryingly growing on their platforms, and that they chose not to act.

So yes, they started to act in 2020 and launched a second round of deletions in 2021, which is a good thing, but it's way too late and way too little.

Do you think the defeat of Donald Trump will cause the movement to lose power?

It's hard to say.

QAnon followers are a bit adrift at the moment.

Donald Trump is no longer president, and none of Q's predictions, who has not posted any messages since December 2020, have come true.

It necessarily affects the morale of the troops.

But QAnon members are still very active on alternative platforms such as Telegram or Parler and no longer seem to need Q to grow the conspiracy theory.

A QAnon influencer said this phrase which I find revealing: “Q's goal was to teach you to trust your own judgment above all else.

Q might never come back, and that's okay, because sometimes you have to learn to move forward without a safety net.


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